By Roxanne Macias
La Prensa de San Antonio
SAN ANTIONIO — Last Friday Fuerza Unida Inc. closed its summer youth program with a celebration and unveiling of a mural and community garden.
During the celebration, 11 youth leaders talked about their experience in the seven-week summer program. Guest of honor was Univision Channel 41 reporter Arantxa Loizaga.
Different topics that pertain to teenagers were covered throughout the program. Social issues such as teen dating violence, the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy are taught.
Additionally, environmental and economic justice issues are discussed in-depth. The students, whose ages range from 13 to 16 attended field trips, engaged in teambuilding activities and participated in intense workshops.
Johnson high school student and Fuerza Unida participant Sean Encino told La Prensa that he came across the Fuerza Unida organization through an online search, and what he learned about the organization was surprising.
Encino found it hard to believe that many hard-working ex-employees of the Levi Strauss & Company (LS& C) were treated so unjustly after the closure of the San Antonio plant which was located on South Zarzamora in the 1990′s.
“To see this struggle out here, it is eye-opening,” said Encino.
Encino also told La Prensa that his experience working in the Fuerza Unida summer youth program has changed him for the better.
Petra Mata, executive director of Fuerza Unida, beamed with pride as she watched the students she considers family, present their summer projects and receive their certificates. The students were also awarded a $500 scholarship for their efforts this summer.
“These kids deserve it big time,” said Mata. “They were great, helpful and respectful.”
Youth Program Mentor Esmeralda Baltazar has been very involved with the youth program. She gave details to La Prensa about the type of skills the teens have learned such as team building, gardening and cooking. Balthezar felt that educating about community was one of the key topics of the summer.
“They learned to define community and what it means to them, “explained Balthezar.
Gloria Gloria, Youth Program Coordinator for Fuerza Unida was the primary person who interacted the most with the teens.
Gloria hails from El Paso and is working towards a degree in political science from Our Lady of the Lake University. She told La Prensa that she was originally planning to be an intern at Fuerza Unida working a maximum of 20 hours a week but ended up working 25-30 hours a week with the participants this summer.
“I learned a lot,” declared Gloria. “I was supposed to teach them about college preparation, but they ended up teaching me life lessons.”
Now that the Fuerza Unida youth program has come to a close, these 11 San Antonio teens can go back to the daily grind of school and extracurricular activities knowing that they are one step closer to a successful future.
Fuerza Unida has fought for worker’s rights since 1990. It began its youth education program ten years ago.
For more information about Fuerza Unida visit www.lafuerza-unida.org.